It Ends In a Cloud of Dust
We stood in the center of the town. Perhaps a thousand of us. In the center of our circle stood an older woman, Naakkanna. Her daughter, Saatta, sat with a drum between her legs. Only the wind blowing between the buildings and rustling the leaves on the trees could be heard. As we stood, we knew more were watching from the windows of the surrounding apartments and buildings. Others stood in smaller circles in the parks and at the gates.
Saatta began to slowly tap the drum. Naakkanna bowed her head and began to sway in rhythm to the drum. She raised her head and began the Habbittata chant. All of us were swaying to the beat which began to speed up. At first we chanted quietly. But, soon our voices were loud enough that the pigeons on the rooftops flew off. Throughout the town the same ritual was being performed. The sound rose like a cloud and hovered above us. The watchers from the hills around the town could hear the Habbittata. It shook the trees, dust rose from the roads, and small pebbles rolled down the hillsides.
The volume and speed of the chanting picked up. Other drums from around the town were joining in. Soon other instruments joined. People were standing on the roof tops joining in the chant.
And then Saatta stopped drumming and the other drums and instruments were silent. The chanting slowed and quieted until only Naakkanna’s voice was left as she turned and walked toward the main gates of the town. We followed and were joined by others from around the town.
We began to march in unison. Step step step step. The cobble stones began to vibrate with the rhyme. The gates were swung open and we marched out, spread out in front of the town walls and then began to march toward the hills where the enemy stood watching from the hilltops. A quarter mile from the base of the hills the long line stopped and silence became a cloak that covered us. Naakkanna and Saatta stepped to the front facing the hills. Saatta slowly began the beat and other instruments in the crowd joined in.
Naakkanna stepped forward and began the chant. All of us joined in and slowly, to the rhythm of the chant and drums, began to walk slowly toward the hills. On the crest of them the enemy raised their shields and swords and began beating them together. The volume of the chant had risen and we couldn’t hear their yells or clashing. As we neared the base of the hills we stopped moving forward and stood chanting, drumming, and stomping in place. The hills began to move. Sand flowed down the sides. At first slowly and then faster and faster. The enemy lines suddenly found the soil beneath their feet begin to move and collapse. Soon the troops that hadn’t moved back quick enough found themselves enveloped in sand flowing like water out onto the plain. A cloud of dust rose around the collapsing hills and we continued until the flows of sand were too close for safety. We turned and to the beat of the drums retreated away from the loess hills. The wind was picking up as it usually did this time of year. Sand was rising in a curtain of clouds. We wrapped scarfs around our noses and mouths as we marched back toward town, our objective now completed. When the wind quiets we will go out and honor their dead and bury those we can find.
last night i was listening to li po reciting poetry
he was drunk, i was drunk, and we flew back
and forth with his words becoming birds, black
birds, great northern ravens who cawed and
soared and swooped and in turn became black
ink, grass style calligraphy on the blue sky and
when i woke in a tangle of words you asked me
was i ok? the taste of sweet wine lingered and
i smiled and mumbled, never better, never
my dog lies sleeping on his blanket
he has bunched it up beneath him
and half burrowed beneath a fold
he snores as he dreams and twitches
i’d like to think that in his dreams
he is swift, young again, nose to
the ground, on track, but then
i’d like to think i am young again
but he and i both know the lie
when we wake in the early morning
to creaky bones and a strong need to pee
in my dream i ate fry bread
with a beautiful Anishinaabe woman
who patted her hips and told me
fry bread was how native women
kept their lovely shapes and i
smiled and offered her another piece
rolled in peanut butter and honey
the dream had come again.
always the same voice off stage, unseen.
i stood on a ridge overlooking superior
from here it looked like forest
all the way to the shore
i knew it wasn’t
as i watched a storm was
building in the west
black clouds roiled and lightning
flashed within them.
a voice spoke quietly
saying only, “wednesday.”
each time i would turn quickly
and look behind me
only a hint of movement in the air
then the storm would hit and
the wind and rain would drive me
from the dune and back to my car
when i woke i knew
it was wednesday
the beer is warm
the sky turning a dull gray
a slight breeze
ruffles the unmowed lawn
i know i should get up
and do something
but i sit and
watch an orange cat
walk slowly through
the dying garden